Congratulations to Hannah Mace

Hannah MaceCongratulations to Hannah Mace, who passed her PhD viva recently.

Hannah’s thesis is on the fourth century CE Latin astronomer, Firmicus Maternus. Hannah had already developed considerable expertise in Latin astronomical writing (such as Manilius and Ausonius) from her Undergraduate and Masters degrees. In her thesis, she explores Firmicus’ text to illuminate intellectual culture of the mid fourth century – a time when classical texts were being read, copied, redeployed, and canonised against a backdrop of the emerging Church. Astronomy/astrology was a particular case in point. Hannah discusses Firmicus’ expertise and his use of earlier writers and, specifically, his citation practice; this is compared with other late antique Latin prose didactic authors to argue that Firmicus had a distinctive, personal agenda.

Congratulations to Steve Nyamilandu

img-20151218-00145Congratulations to Steve Nyamilandu, Lecturer in Latin at Chancellor College, University of Malawi, for passing his PhD, ‘Contextualising Classics Teaching in Malawi: a Comparative Study’. In this work, Steve traces the history of Classics teaching in Malawi before presenting and analysing various measures of the subject’s contemporary health, purpose and reputation; the comparative element in the thesis draws on analysis of similar issues in a wide variety of other institutions, including some in the UK, the USA and Africa, some of which Steve visited in person. Steve was supervised jointly by his home University and the School of Classics at St Andrews, as part of the co-tutelle arrangement between the two Universities; Steve’s study included two spells at Swallowgate, where amongst other things, he was able to research the important contribution to Malawian classics made by the late Robin Ogilvie, Professor of Latin at St Andrews, who served as an academic consultant to Hastings Banda, President of Malawi (1961-1997).

Congratulations to Ana Kotarcic

cl_pg-kotarcic-150x199Ana Kotarcic will receive her PhD on 30th November. Her thesis (‘Aristotle’s Concept of Lexis – A Theory of Language and Style’) offers an original account of Aristotelian lexis.  She offers new distinctions between the levels at which Aristotle examines lexis, and she explores in their intellectual context Aristotle’s theories of language, dialects and expertly crafted discourse. She then applies her analysis to Aristotle’s account of metaphor. Congratulations, Ana!

Congratulations to Anouk Vermeulen

cl_pg-vermeulen-150x226Congratulations to Anouk Vermeulen on a successful PhD viva this week. Anouk’s dissertation is entitled “Divided Lands, Divided Peoples? A Reconsideration of Roman Land Division, its Practices, Purposes, and Effects”, and discusses the practice of dividing land into roughly regular plots, which were then assigned to farmers – a distinctly Roman way of settling communities and redefining the landscape.

Anouk’s thesis is an original contribution to this important field of studies, developing a methodology that combines landscape archaeology, digital technologies, and spatial analysis in a new approach that allowed her to call into discussion traditional interpretations of Roman settlements.

First, place the mole in the cask…

Bovine weather prediction the Highland way
Bovine weather prediction the Highland way

In 1977 farmer Robin Page, frustrated that “as the weather forecasting service has grown in size and expense, so its predictions seem to have become more inaccurate”, published Weather Forecasting The Country Way. The book, complete with its pleasant little wood engravings, provides ways of predicting the weather by observing natural changes in atmosphere, bird and animal behaviour, flowers, trees and insects. Probably the most widely known of these is:

Red sky at night, shepherd’s/sailor’s* delight;
red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning

*In this rhyme, shepherds tend to be favoured in the UK, sailors in the US.

By publishing this book, Page was connecting with a predictive tradition that stems far back in to the ancient world.

My research has looked at the history of these ‘weather signs’ in antiquity, how they came to be placed in formalised list structures, and how these lists may have been used. One of the main sources for their ancient existence and organisation is a 4th century BC Greek text called the De Signis, ‘On Signs’, which lists around 300 weather signs, arranged according to the weather they indicate: rain – wind – storms – fair weather. Another significant text is Aratus’ Phaenomena, a poem about astronomy and the weather from the 3rd century BC. Lists of these signs, however, crop up in a whole host of texts including Virgil’s Georgics, Lucan’s Civil War, Pliny’s Natural History, and Aelian’s On Animals.

The variety of signs they contain is impressive. Like Page, they predominantly cite birds and animals, some of which are certainly still around today. One such example is cows sniffing the air indicating rain. This is a sign the existence of which we can trace, through its appearances in texts, right back to our ancient sources:

(1)  It appears in Page in 1977…
(2)  In Richard Inward’s 1864 Weather Lore
(3)  In Digges’ A Prognostication Euerlasting of Ryght Good Effecte in 1555: “bestes…brethyng up to the ayre with open nostrels, rayne folowyth”…
(4)  In the 10th century Byzantine farming text Geoponica
(5)  In Pliny’s Natural History
(6)  In Aratus’ Phaenomena.

Other signs are completely lost to us now, such as the advice given in the De Signis to place a mole (or maybe a wood-cock, the Greek is troublesome) into a cask with some earth and listen to the sound it makes. If anybody knows of any tradition/practice similar to this, I’d love to hear about it!

Despite their volume and prevalence in texts, it is actually not clear how, or indeed whether, these signs were used on a day-to-day basis to make predictions. In the texts, we often find hesitation and caveats associated with them: some signs are known to be better than others; a single weather sign is rarely good enough – two or three are needed; signs can indicate a weather change at an unknown time in the future; spotting many of the signs is accepted as a matter of chance. These issues cast doubt over the possibility of weather signs acting as a stand-alone predictive method. Instead, it is likely that they had a ‘working relationship’ with another method of weather prediction, astrometeorology, which uses the movement of the stars to indicate forthcoming weather. The relationship between these methods has been a fundamental part of my research and it appears that predictions made through weather signs may have been compared against those made by astrometeorology to produce a more rigorous and adaptable system.

Texts that deal with ancient weather prediction (and, indeed, meteorological topics more generally) tend not to be widely-read and as a result there is still plenty of work to be done to try to understand how ancient civilizations predicted, used, and explained the weather.

– Michael Beardmore, PhD, University of St. Andrews

Spotlight on… Anouk Vermeulen

picture of AnoukIf you see someone running around smiling like a fool, that’s probably me!

Hi, my name is Anouk Vermeulen, and I’m a third year PhD student. I’m working on Roman land division, comparing the available evidence from field surveys etc. with the field systems identified from aerial photos in the seventies and eighties. I’m mainly looking at the how and why behind the settlement patterns, and so far it appears that the reality does not meet the idealistic standards in the minds of either ancient or modern scholars – no surprise there, does reality ever live up to the ideal?! I work a lot with GIS, a computer program to help create your own maps, which is quite complicated for someone like me, who knows next to nothing about maths and statistics and stuff. My first case study took me over a year, though by now I think I’m sort of getting there. And at least, if all else fails, I’ll have really awesome maps in my thesis!

This year I am also one of the PG Representatives, together with Ellen MacDougall. We do our best to make life as a Classics PhD student in St Andrews as comfortable as possible by organising loads of fun stuff along with dealing with complaints and issues that come up during the year. We’re organising a special PG seminar series, held once a week during term time, in which some of us present work, practise conference papers, and discuss ideas. As a part of this seminar series, we organise so-called Skills Sessions, in which we ask staff members to talk about certain key skills, such as writing abstracts, teaching, and asking good questions after seminars. These sessions are very useful, and it is nice to hear staff members talk about things they do all the time and hear how they deal with it (or have dealt with it in the past) on a regular basis. It gives the opportunity to ask all the silly, simple questions you always wanted to ask but never dared, and you get a good answer as well.

Finally, together with Michael Furman, I’m organising a series of debates about the current state of affairs within humanities or academia as a whole, titled the Mount Olympus Debates. The first debate will take place on Tuesday February 18th, and discusses the role recent digitization plays in the humanities. Issues like growing use of internet and digital resources will be discussed, as well as how all this computer stuff can help our research – or is it really the end? Other debates focus on the position of women in academia – mainly on the question if we should still be concerned with this or if the emancipation of women is completed – and the future of the humanities.

It’s a very busy life, but I love a challenge, and I love everything I’m doing. I wouldn’t know what to cut out!

Anouk Vermeulen, PhD student, University of St. Andrews

Stoic Concepts of Beauty

My thesis is dedicated to exploring Stoic concepts of beauty, and especially those found in the fragmentary works of Chrysippus, the third head of the Stoa. The Stoics are hardly the first philosophers that come to mind when discussing ancient theories of beauty. Their reputation for defending stringent moralistic claims, for instance, that everything but virtue is of indifferent value, seems to suggest that the Stoics would not be interested in aesthetics. Moreover, while such ancient works as Plato’s Symposium and Plotinus’ Enneads theorise about nature and epistemology of beauty in a very explicit manner, the extant Stoic fragments do not contain any comparable material.

(c) Flickr: jp extrabox
(c) Flickr: jp extrabox

This appearance, I argue, is deceptive. The Stoics extensively employed aesthetic vocabulary in various arguments, and they even had a definition of beauty. I am interested not only in how the Stoic definition of beauty as summetria of parts with each other and with a whole – of which Chrysippus might have been an author or at least a proponent – conceptualises aesthetic properties, but also how such a notion of aesthetic properties corresponds with other aesthetic theories in Classical and Hellenistic periods. I argue that formalist and functionalist features of this definition indicates high sophistication of Stoic aesthetic thought which made it very relevant and important contribution to philosophical debates on aesthetic properties at this time.

I also analyse the way in which Chrysippus employed aesthetic vocabulary in other arguments and what conceptual underpinnings this usage had. Arguments using aesthetic language are often of great importance to overall Stoic thought. For instance, beauty and orderliness of the heavenly bodies is used in the Stoic theological arguments as a proof that the world is generated not arbitrarily but in a rational manner. Similarly, the argument ‘that only the beautiful is the good’ shows that aesthetic notions were important for the Stoic definition of the good and ethics more generally. When interpreting these and similar cases, I question what motivated Chrysippus to employ aesthetic vocabulary in these arguments, what role aesthetic terms play and how these conceptualisations of beauty terms correspond to each other and the definition of beauty. I am interested in both the conceptual underpinnings of these usages of aesthetic vocabulary and how discovering these conceptual underpinnings lead to a more nuanced understanding of overall arguments.

Although I do not assume that Chrysippus had a single clearly-formulated theory of aesthetic properties, the outcome of my research shows that there were coherent attempts to theorise aesthetic properties in Chrysippus’ work. These attempts show not only sophistication of thought but also an engagement with existing aesthetic tradition, which makes the study of Chrysippean conceptualisations of aesthetic properties interesting both philosophically and historically.

Aiste Celkyte, PhD student, University of St. Andrews